When we think of home, one of the first things we typically think of is comfort. We imagine our homes to be a place where we can take refuge from the heat or cold outside. For that reason, we place a great deal of emphasis on having a heating and cooling system that works well.
As we put more and more emphasis on being green as well as on saving money, those factors play a part in our choice of heating and cooling systems as well. Geothermal was the first technology to really get everyone’s attention about saving on pollution and expense, but it requires a considerable amount of outdoor space that not everyone has access to.
The newest option is solar-powered climate control. These systems use an outdoor collector to gather energy from the sun and to create the hot and cold air needed to keep the home at a comfortable temperature. These systems are quickly gaining popularity.
But how are they really different from traditional electric and gas systems? On a daily basis, what might you have to do with a solar unit that the other systems won’t require and vice versa? Let’s look at a few details.
First, solar heating and cooling cuts you loose from about 75% of your consumption of public utilities. It can bring an immediate end to your worries about their constant rate hikes, taxes, and other costs. And in the event of an electrical outage, you can maintain the climate in your home with a much smaller backup generator. In addition, the solar unit will generate hot water for your home and can even heat a swimming pool, all without a spinning power or gas meter.
The downside is that unlike public utilities, which are rarely interrupted and can be repaired when they are, the sun can go many consecutive days without being visible. A long stretch of cloudy weather could impair its function while your neighbor’s furnace continues to work. And since your home already has a water heater and probably a heat pump, you are essentially throwing away those very expensive appliances when you bypass them. As for energy savings, most homes can do just as well with a geothermal system.
Solar heating and cooling also lower the cooling costs in your home. Summertime sun can dramatically increase the temperature in your home, making heavy demands on your air conditioner. A solar unit placed on the sunniest side of the home will not only cool the house actively, it will also help passively by intercepting much of the sun before it ever hits the house. Of course, properly placed shade trees can do the very same thing, without nearly as much cost and with the added benefit of beautification.
One significant disadvantage of solar units is installation and upkeep. These systems can be very expensive to install, and right now they are not available in every part of the country. Technicians may not be able to get to you for repairs as quickly as the people who work with traditional systems.
The earlier you take on solar technology, the more you will pay and the harder it will be to get someone qualified to work on it. Given the low number of these units that are in operation, there could be a lot of trial and error associated with their repair. Heat pumps and geothermal units have been around for years, and an experienced technician is rarely stumped.
Finally, there is the issue of home value. Installing a solar unit may create increased value by lowering utility costs, but many potential buyers may be scared away by the unfamiliar technology. If a realtor says the home has a heat pump, buyers understand. If that realtor says it has solar heat, they will be skeptical—and offer less.
There are applications where solar heating and cooling systems may ultimately end up being a great option. But there is a very steep learning curve for everyone from owners to technicians, and only time will flatten it. There is also the point that such units replace a lot of things that may not need to be replaced. As with any home project, it just takes some careful review.